Family of man shot by NSW Police in 2019 calls for justice, reforms

June 23, 2023
Todd McKenzie has been suffering from a psychotic episode when he was shot by NSW Police. Photo: supplied

In the final day of a protracted coronial inquest into a New South Wales Police shooting of a mentally unwell man in 2019, the family made an emotional plea for change in the NSW Coroner’s Court on June 23.

Todd McKenzie was suffering from a severe psychotic episode when NSW Police arrived at his home in Taree on July 31, 2019, and established a siege lasting nine hours. At 9.50pm, police broke into his home and shot Todd three times in the back.

June Wilkins, Todd McKenzie’s mother, and stepfather Neil Wilkins, told the court that they are tormented by the thought that their son’s death could have been avoided.

“We don’t want another family to have to suffer what we are going through,” they said. “We want to see justice for Todd’s death, accountability and for changes to be made to prevent deaths like Todd’s happening again.”

The inquest revealed that NSW Police special operations forces ordered local police to turn off their body cameras during the siege. Local police taunted Todd during his mental health crisis. NSW Police negotiators declined family offers to negotiate with Todd, assuring them that their son would not be hurt.

The Wilkins’ couple told the coroner that Todd was a “warm, loving and wonderful young man” and “always there for his sister and her family whenever they needed him”.

Forensic psychiatrist Kerri Eagle told the court earlier this week the potential benefits of consulting an independent psychiatrist during the police siege.

She said a psychiatrist could have reviewed clinical information and observations about Todd’s behaviour, spoken with his family and “provided some strategies or advice as to how you might be able to de-escalate the situation”. 

Eagle also suggested the family may have been able to help engage with Todd before police breached his home. “When people have severe psychosis, family are often the people who know them the best and who may have any restored ability to engage with that person.”

The family’s lawyers at the National Justice Project say that the expert evidence supports the family’s belief that Todd’s death could have been avoided.

Solicitor Karina Hawtrey said: “Instead of responding with brute force, we need to put psychological professionals in the driver’s seat when dealing with someone who needs to be treated with care and compassion.”

Statistics obtained by the National Justice Project show that half of those shot dead by NSW Police over the past 20 years have suffered from mental illnesses. Police attended 55,000 mental health incidents just in 2019.

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